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A Trainer's View: Moderation and Adaptation in Personal Fitness Programs

By James Parker

With the holidays fast approaching, many Americans are starting to feel that end-of-year pressure to address their fitness guilt, from a lack of time for exercise to feelings of over-indulgence with seasonal foods. Along come ads for “ever-improving” exercise equipment, apparel, and diets. Some of these products aren’t actually new at all, and a few can be very good for you, but too many are more likely gimmicks designed to part the unwary from their hard-earned cash. How can you sift through all the mess? Even if they are all good, then how do you choose what to do? Just as one should eat during the holidays: following a principle of moderation. Specifically, adaption in moderation is the key.

Moderation: An Analogy
Let's think about moderation in eating as an analogy for moderation in exercise. Moderation is best described as taking something in smaller, easier amounts than the whole. In other words, moderation for eating at a feast would be putting smaller equal portions on your plate of the different dishes available, rather than as much of you can of one thing. And instead of filling the plate to the brim with those portions in an attempt to get as much as you can, you decide to put maybe only three or four different things in either a third or quarter portions respectively, so that they fit with room to spare. Most often this way of eating can easily allow one to sample everything available over the evening, with out ever really getting too full—much preferable to the eat-until-bloat method most people tend to employ. It’s time-consuming, but really…isn’t that what makes a good feast great? The time spent eating for taste and to keep from over-feeding can also mean more time spent with those whose company you enjoy. If you look at the evening metaphorically as a lifetime, then this style of consumption works exceedingly well as an approach to fitness and the fitness industry.

Personal Fitness: Know Thyself
How then can you define what moderation will mean for your personal fitness program? For many people, it is actually very difficult to know. That's because one thing that tends to be neglected in the swirl of fitness info is an individual's own understanding of his body and what it can do. If you are unaware of your own body, its strengths and weaknesses, then you need to spend a little time exploring it before even attempting a new exercise program or equipment. Ever wonder why most equipment, products, and or diets are prefaced with “please consult a physician before starting”? That's because it's assumed that most individuals have neither the understanding nor inclination to understand their own bodies, so an expert (who is assumed to know your body better than you do…and usually does, unfortunately) is asked to consult and give either warning or consent. I am in no way stating that you shouldn’t see a doctor regularly or before beginning a new program, just that, except in surprise events, he shouldn’t be able to tell you anything you don’t already know. It’s much easier to pick small, easily “digested” portions of fitness ideas and equipment if you already have an overall understanding of your body, its strengths and limitations.

How Much is Too Much?
So, assuming you have an understanding about what your body can and can’t do, let’s move on to sifting through the hordes of ideas and products available. When it comes to exercise, the first rule should be safety. No matter how great a program and no matter how many people do it, is it okay for you? Parkour is a favorite form of exercise to me and yet deadly to areas of my body due to past injuries and unfortunate genetics. For many people Parkour is incredible and does the miraculous, but for me and unmodified, I could end up in surgery. There’s the word though: unmodified. Since I know my body and when it needs an ego check, I know what I can and can’t do when it comes to this particular exercise modality. I can easily pick and choose the small portions to adapt them to my personal fitness with out risking my health. It’s no fun to admit I can’t do things, but in the long run with this way I can still enjoy a way of exercising that is fun for me.

Lately many experts, men and women I respect, have attacked the high-intensity interval/circuit cross-training style of exercise popular coast to coast. However, as with anything else, maybe it’s not the program itself that is a problem as much as the level individuals take it to. Again, moderation is the key. Maybe the problem isn’t the modality, but the intensity it’s combined with. I seriously doubt anyone can argue that throwing up after exercise (or really anytime) is a good thing. There are many forms of circuit style training that are extremely beneficial, and more than a few of them are fun, too. A past client of mine just the other day said she tried a popular Latin dance-style circuit class and absolutely loved it. While not my favorite class, I wholeheartedly told her to go forth and enjoy. That’s another way to adapt exercise: how much fun do you have? Anything can become an exercise dependant on the level of intensity (you only need to break a sweat for it to meet the definition of exercise), which means taking the dog for that hike you enjoy becomes exercise. You don't need to kill yourself to get your workout—and you have the right to turn things you do for fun into part of your program.

Adaptation: Make it Yours
Something else you can adapt in moderation is including into your personal fitness some of the current trends in fitness products. But here again, moderation is key. One obvious example is the fit or tone shoes rampant in stores world-wide. By themselves, they are clearly not the end all to someone’s fitness and body weight woes; use them extensively, and they can even be responsible for injuries. Tone/fit shoes need to have a set place and time in which they are used as well as a plan for the recovery of those muscles and tendons so that they truly get stronger. For my clients that have fit/tone shoes I council them on the times and places to use their shoes with respect to the time they put in the gym. I also council them on the proper foot wear for recovery when they aren’t wearing their exercise shoes.

In a similar way, the movement for fitness enthusiasts towards “barefoot” running mirrors the tone-shoe developments. Barefoot running, or running with a shoe like product that allows the runner to experience what being barefoot is like with out risking the vulnerable skin of the foot, is a great way to strengthen muscles and tendons that tend to be under-trained with the over-usage of today’s standard running shoe. Doing it too much, though, can easily lead to overtraining those same muscles, causing injury. Again, moderation comes into play. Knowing myself as I do, I prefer a shoe that supports my arch (resting it) and cushions my knees from impact (also allowing them the recovery they need from any pounding and stress they received from their work out). Any change to that basic set of needs I would make cautiously and gradually—that is, in moderation.

Understand that these concepts I’ve outlined work for everyone—that’s the point. From the athlete, the mixed martial artist, to the inactive, even obese individuals; adapting fitness ideas, plans, exercise modalities, and equipment can work, if you follow a few rules:

  1. Know yourself.
  2. Pick plans and styles of exercise in moderation to see how and where they fit into your life.
  3. Bring in equipment that makes sense to you as part of the whole instead making it the whole.
  4. Lastly, make recovery just as important as training. It’s part of the equation for better fitness and more often than not, underappreciated and undervalued.
Adaptation with moderation means doing enough, not too much. If your recovery time is non-existent and atrophied, than there is no moderation and it might be time to scale it back and re-asses the plan. You do have a plan, don’t you?

About James Parker: James Parker is a mixed martial artist, an MMA conditioning coach, a personal trainer, and a freelance writer in Los Angeles, Ca.